May 3, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Easter                Year B                       May 3, 2015

The Rev. Charles E. Walling

BRANCHES AND VINES IT IS NOT ABOUT HORTICULTURE

John 15:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

 

A prophet once came to a city to convert its inhabitant.  At first the people listened to his sermons, but they gradually drifted away until there was not a single soul to hear the prophet when he spoke.

One day a traveler said to him, “Why do you go on preaching when there is no one to hear you?” 

“Well” said the prophet, “In the beginning I had hoped to change these people.  If I still shout it is only to prevent them from changing me.

The next time someone tells you that you have to take the Bible literally—to read it word for word exactly for what it says , or not at all—shout out “I am the true Vine” saying of Jesus.  Does it mean that Jesus lived his life trailing across the ground supported by little forked sticks?  Did he twine himself around trees or grow on poles.  Was he trained to spread on walls or trellises?

There is a lot of absurdity in biblical literalism for it robs us of true spiritual insight by trivializing it.  Literalism is a short cut that leads to silliness!

This kind of absurdity--If Jesus was the “lamb of God” does that mean he ate grass and shed wool?  When he claimed, “I am the bread of life” does that mean he was sliced or a whole loaf?

The metaphorical, as well as the literal, therefore plays a significant role in our understanding of Scripture.  Today we have a dramatic example: Jesus as the true vine.  Repeatedly in the history of Israel, the vine stood as symbol for the nation, for better or worse.

For instance Ezekiel said that Israel was a splendid vine, but that it had become like a vine transplanted into the wilderness—fit for nothing but destruction (Jer. 19:10-14).  Jeremiah maintained that God planted Israel as a “choice vine, from the purest stock, but it has turned itself into a wild vine (Jer. 2:21).

In Ecclesiasticus the vine represents the everlastingness of Wisdom—God’s instrument in creation, and in the enlightenment of the world (24:7).  The chronicler of the ancient world, Josephus described the great doors of the temple—“Under the crown work was spread out a golden vine, with its branches hanging down from a great height, the largeness and workmanship of which were an astonishing sight to the spectators”.

The Easter community being addressed by John’s Gospel the image of Jesus as the true vine conveyed a sense of uniqueness—that Jesus, was the Anointed One of God.  Jesus is the One in whom Israel and the world, finds the abundant life.  It marked the uniqueness of their community, and defined how their community was to live and move and have its being in and around the reality of the Risen Lord.

The metaphorical image of the true vine and the branches expressed the importance of intimacy and mutual indwelling between believes and the Risen Lord.  The community of Christ understood itself as deriving its life from the Risen One--just as braches find their source of life in the central vine.  The fruitfulness, the aliveness, of each branch depends upon an unclogged connection with the primary vine.  In the same way that a fetus depends upon an unclogged connection for its sustaining nourish-ment through the umbilical cord that connects it to its mother.

The image of the true vine also suggests the corporate nature of the Christian community.  There are no individual branches.  There is no going it alone.  The branches run together.  They interweave, intertwine, and encircle one another until they are nearly indistinguishable.  No one branch is free standing.  None is distinctive, but all live together drawing from the same source: the vine of Christ.  In other words, there is no place in the Christian community for “hierarchies whether they are in gifts or good looks or personalities or ecclesiastical clout.  Our distinctiveness as Christians comes only from being attached to Christ, nothing else.  No one has precedence or privilege.  We Christens do not have to fret or scurry around trying to be “somebody”

The image of the vine implies more than just being connected or being fed by the vine.  The idea is not just to hang on, but to be productive, to bear fruit, to flower into Jesus love wherever we are.  It is by this that the world will know that we belong to Jesus.

As a parent, as a boss, as a subordinate, as a friend, as a colleague, as a lover—we the baptized, are all branches.  We are the fruit bearers—the sign and symbol of Christ to the world.  Like it or not the agenda of Jesus is judged in large measure by our productiveness.  How we embody or dis-embody the faith that we profess in thought, word, and deed authenticates or in-authenticates the Gospel in the world.  We are not just to believe and receive; we are also to grow and develop; to mature into ripeness; to live and serve the Vine as branches flowering with gladness and singleness of heart.  (851)) 

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Acts 8:26-40

An angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over to this chariot and join it." So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:"Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth." The eunuch asked Philip, "About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?" He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

1 John 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.